Nine ar­rested over ex­plo­sives in Hong Kong ahead of vote

The China Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY LAURA MANNERING AND DEN­NIS CHONG

Hong Kong po­lice said Mon­day they had ar­rested nine mem­bers of a “lo­cal syn­di­cate” in­volved in mak­ing ex­plo­sives and said at least one claimed to be a mem­ber of a rad­i­cal group.

Po­lice would not name the group or spec­ify mo­tives but said that maps of cen­tral dis­tricts of Hong Kong had been found and warned any­one tak­ing part in public gath­er­ings to stay away from “vi­o­lent pro­test­ers.”

It comes as a se­ries of ral­lies are planned ahead of a vote this week on a con­tro­ver­sial po­lit­i­cal re­form pack­age which has di­vided the city and led to mass protests at the end of last year.

“The op­er­a­tion ... re­sulted in the ar­rest of nine Hong Kong cit­i­zens for the of­fense of con­spir­acy to man­u­fac­ture ex­plo­sives,” Au Chin-chau, su­per­in­ten­dent of the or­ga­nized crime and triad bureau, told re­porters.

“Dur­ing po­lice i nquiries some­one claimed to be a mem- ber of a lo­cal rad­i­cal or­ga­ni­za­tion,” said Au.

Au would not clar­ify how many of the group be­longed to the or­ga­ni­za­tion, but said “not all.”

He de­scribed the group as a “lo­cal syn­di­cate in­volved in man­u­fac­tur­ing ex­plo­sives.”

The South China Morn­ing Post and the Ori­en­tal Daily had ear­lier said those ar­rested were ac­tivists from pro-democ­racy “lo­cal­ist” groups, which have emerged in the wake of a battle over the gov­ern­ment’s elec­toral roadmap.

Five men and four women were ar­rested aged 21 to 34 years old.

Chem­i­cals were seized at an aban­doned tele­vi­sion stu­dio in the eastern dis­trict of Sai Kung, with some det­o­nated at the scene.

A house search later led to the seizure of in­gre­di­ents which could be used to make TATP, “a form of high ex­plo­sive,” said Au.

Maps of the cen­tral neigh­bor­hoods of Wan Chai and Ad­mi­ralty were also found.

Both lo­ca­tions were at the heart of last year’s mass pro-democ­racy ral­lies and the gov­ern­ment com-

plex is in Ad­mi­ralty.

Protest Risk

Daily ral­lies are planned out­side the leg­is­la­ture this week ahead of a vote on the gov­ern­ment’s elec­toral roadmap, ex­pected to take place by Fri­day.

Au did not di­rectly link the ar­rests to the protests, but warned: “Should there be any con­fronta­tions, cit­i­zens should pro­tect their own safety, leave the scene at once and main­tain a safe dis­tance with the vi­o­lent pro­test­ers.”

The re­form bill lays out a plan for choos­ing the city’s next leader by public vote for the first time in 2017.

But it sticks to a rul­ing from Bei­jing which stip­u­lates that can­di­dates must be vet­ted by a loy­al­ist com­mit­tee.

That rul­ing sparked mass ral­lies and road­blocks to­wards the end of last year, with cam­paign­ers dis­miss­ing it as “fake democ­racy.”

Pro-democ­racy leg­is­la­tors are vow­ing to block the pro­posal.

Hong Kong is semi-au­ton­o­mous af­ter be­ing handed back to China by the United King­dom in 1997 and sees much greater free­doms than on the main­land, but there are fears that those are be­ing eroded.

“Lo­cal­ist” groups are frus­trated with the lack of progress on elec­toral re­form and have ar­gued that Hong Kong should dis­tance it­self from Bei­jing to forge its own po­lit­i­cal fu­ture.

Of­fi­cials from two lo­cal­ist groups told AFP they had no knowl­edge of the ar­rests and did not con­done vi­o­lence.

“Po­lice said lo­cal­ist ac­tivists are mak­ing bombs, but I am not sure if it’s real or not. We have noth­ing to do with that,” said Jon Ho of Hong Kong Lo­cal­ism Power.

Peo­ple Power’s Tam Tak-chi added: “Peo­ple Power did not do that. Our group does not be­lieve in vi­o­lence.”

AP

Plain-clothed po­lice of­fi­cers stand guard in front of air ri­fles and other ev­i­dence dur­ing a press con­fer­ence in Hong Kong on Mon­day, June 15.

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